My dad’s father was unquestionably clever enough to go to university, but his poor background gave him no chance. He worked as a docker in Yarmouth until bad health forced him to stop.
My dad was equally clearly a university candidate, but the outbreak of World War II prevented it. He eventually taught, inspirationally but poorly rewarded, in a Secondary Modern school.
No surprise, then, that I grew up – and remain – a socialist. Specifically, a down-to-earth type of socialist: the kind that’s focused on giving people decent healthcare and education, rather than fixed on bringing down some mythical Western industrial-military complex.
For the same reason, I’ve always felt privileged to have had the opportunity of going to university. And doubly privileged that the university – you’ll see where I’m going with this – was Cambridge. I hope I did some justice to the things my dad and his father missed out on.
It’s always a sentimental journey for me to return, and City’s pre-season friendly on Saturday was the perfect excuse.
So, from the dreaming spires to the earthier surrounds of the Cambs Glass Stadium, home of Cambridge United. In a sense all pre-season games are (sorry, can’t resist) academic, but for Daniel Farke there’s clearly no such thing as a meaningless session.
It was my first look at the new Norwich in action, and I was eager to see fresh faces and the much-discussed 4-1-4-1 formation. Except that we didn’t. As most of you will have read elsewhere, or witnessed for yourselves, Saturday saw 120 minutes of something quite different: three at the back with wing-backs.
It shouldn’t really have been a surprise for me or anyone else who attended the Fans Forum at Carrow Road last Thursday – a superb event jointly organised by the club and the Fans Social Club, compered by the admirable Darren Eadie. Some 300 fans heard characteristically straightforward answers from Steve Stone and Stuart Webber, with the bonus this time of informative and entertaining input from Daniel Farke.
One of the things he explained was how he balances consistency with flexibility. There’s a philosophy he’s imbuing into the players and in which he has complete confidence (more of that later), but it will translate into different tactics and formations for different situations.
We could see that in practice at Cambridge. The formation was new, but Farke’s principles are evident: cherish possession of the ball and be loath to give it away; move to give colleagues good passing options; if possession is lost, regroup quickly to pressurise the opposition. The discipline is clearly taking shape.
Before I offer any thoughts on players, two disclaimers about my competence:
- Despite living in Cambridge for three years, I managed to get lost on Saturday and almost missed the kick-off (in mitigation, managing Cambridge is easier with a bike than a car).
- After watching the pre-season games a couple of years ago, I came out singing the praises of Harry Toffolo and Youssef Mulumbu who I was convinced would have big parts to play. So my judgement needs to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
That said, some of the same things struck me as others. Stand-out features were the quality of Mario Vrancic and James Maddison, the sparkle of Josh Murphy and the composure of Christoph Zimmerman.
It was a day for wing-backs, and a couple of the players in that position were clearly trying to make their mark. Yanic Wildschut was more focused and committed than we’ve seen him before, while James Husband definitely looked the part. We suddenly have competition for that spot, though: Toffolo is happily still here, and the uninhibited bravura of Jamal Lewis is a joy to watch.
Pritchard’s injury is a sickener, of course. Against that, Maddison is a revelation. In the top two divisions you need players who can turn and pass their way out of tight situations, and he’s clearly one. Why he didn’t get more games last season is beyond me, but he’s a bonus for the new regime.
One more note. Seeing Angus Gunn in action was an attraction of Saturday, but ‘action’ turned out to be an exaggeration; we’ll be happy if he has that little to do in the Championship. But we did see an absolutely brilliant reflex save – from Remi Matthews in game 2. We really do have some good prospects at Norwich.
Perhaps you’ll indulge a little final reflection on my old Cambridge days.
I don’t think of it as the noble pursuit of pure knowledge, but I guess I must have done a bit of that – mixed with equally assiduous study of the pinball machine and the real ales of East Anglia.
My experience wasn’t quite Brideshead Revisited, but it was magical. It’s a place that, in its own special way, inspires and encourages love.
Anywhere which does that – or indeed anyone who does it – can’t be bad in my opinion.